A Hockey Story, Flyers 'N Sync and Your FGSB Mailbag

A Hockey Story, Flyers 'N Sync and Your FGSB Mailbag

Matt Herneisen grew up in Gilbertsville, PA. He played minor hockey for the Boyertown Bears, the Philadelphia Junior Flyers, the Valley Forge Colonials/Minutemen, and the Toronto Marlboros. He played junior hockey for the United States National Development Program, the Peterborough Petes, and the Saulte Ste. Marie Greyhounds. Matt played professional hockey for the Trenton Titans, Dayton Bombers, and Reading Royals.

Matt Herneisen lay in bed on a late August afternoon, lost in a haze, tired and weak. A fan in the corner of the room provided a brief break from the summer heat before turning its attention to the loose corner of a Mark Recchi poster. He couldn’t help but think about his old classmates just down the street, wrapping up their first full week of school. He also couldn’t help but think about his future teammates going through training camp without him, and how he wasn’t just going to be the new guy, but the new and late guy. All of this on top of being The American. Done with Mark Recchi for now, the breeze turned back to Matt.

When he was sure the worst of the mono had passed, Matt dragged himself out of the house to shoot pucks in the driveway. He remembered from his doctor’s visits that the only real danger to his life was his swollen spleen, and it seemed as if resting and getting plenty of fluids was more of a suggestion. His mom wasn’t surprised when she found him there.

“Matt, you don’t have to do this if you don’t want to anymore. You’ve only missed a week of school here. We could re-enroll you. You could play for the Minutemen or Junior Flyers again this year. They’d love to have you.”

What had transpired over the past two or three years was that Matt Herneisen had emerged as one of the better hockey talents in the Mid-Atlantic region. In the late ‘90’s the Mid-Atlantic region was competitive, but even its best Bantam (U-16) clubs couldn’t quite keep up with powerhouses from Minnesota, Michigan and Massachusetts. Local Midget hockey (U-18) was for kids with spotty beards whose hockey dreams stopped at the thought of one day driving themselves to practice. When you got to be about 14 or 15 back then it was quite clear that if you hoped to play college or junior hockey you needed to head north, usually to a New England Prep School, in an extremely rare case, as was Matt’s, to the Midwest or to the Real Deal in Canada. For all intents and purposes, scouting of Mid-Atlantic players was nonexistent compared to today. Free AOL 90 hour trial discs still came in the mail on a regular basis. There were no online stats or recaps so you couldn’t catch a USHL or NAHL scout’s eye when they sorted the league stats online. Everything was word of mouth, and phone calls, and the occasional life-changing fax.

“We just got a fax from your billets. They’re backing out. They sent a fax. Here.”

Matt took the piece of paper from his mom, careful to hold it by the edges so his sweaty fingers wouldn’t smudge the ink. He began reading:

~Ed, we’re really sorry to hear that Matt’s sick and although we hate to do this, with a new grandchild in the picture we don’t think Matt coming to billet with us is going to work out. I’m sorry to do this so late in the game but this has all happened so suddenly and we’re just looking out for our family. We wish you the best of luck in life and hockey, and wish Matt a speedy recovery.~

It was easy enough to read between the lines of this proud Canadian whose grandchild, mind you, was actually living in New Jersey.

~Ed, hockey is more than just a national pastime to us, as baseball is to you. Hockey is engrained in our culture. It is a thread in the fabric of this nation. We were hesitant about accepting an American into our home to begin with and now that he has missed training camp because he caught a cold, we don’t think it’s prudent to have your son billet with us. I mean, what if he isn’t even any good? We might never recover from the scandal.~

“It doesn’t matter,” Matt said handing the paper carefully back to his mom, careful not to display even a hint of his knee-jerk reaction to the rejection.

Whether it was the naivety of youth or the tunnel vision of a determined person, after shooting fifty more pucks this road block deterred Matt about as much as previous, possibly bigger one had. At this time in the always tenuous relationship between Hockey Canada and USA Hockey, Canada had just issued an edict, of sorts, stating that Americans couldn’t play on Canadian minor hockey teams. This rule was meant to dissuade the stars of Buffalo’s and Detroit’s youth leagues from banding together and stacking the talent on Canadian teams close to the border, which kind of makes sense. The problem is that no matter how reasonable something seems on the surface, neither Hockey Canada nor USA Hockey have ever taken kindly to the other side creating any sort of rule that affected their constituents. In retaliation, USA hockey was threatening to revoke Canadian kids’ scholarships from American colleges. The two sides were at a stalemate but the Canadian directive still stood.

None of this mattered to Matt.

As his recovery continued Matt started shooting more pucks in the driveway, and with his strength returning they started kissing the crossbar instead of floating in 3 feet high. He started going on short jogs that turned into long distance runs. He began hitting the weights and resuming his agility drills. He wasn’t in control of his living situation, Hockey Canada, or USA Hockey. Last he had heard the Marlies coach still wanted him to come to Toronto. The number 8 was still waiting for him. An ’83 prodigy named Jason Spezza was still looking for a right wing. All he had to do was get across that border.

The only part of the plan that hadn’t fallen through, and was nagging at Matt more than these other “trivial” details, he was still going to an all-boys Catholic school in midtown Toronto called St. Michaels. For months he had been excited to go to Canada and live with a billet family, to play hockey for a team that had regularly destroyed his during summers past. The school situation had been just a minor detail in the bigger plan and now it was the plan. He wasn’t Catholic and, truth be told, he wasn’t all that into school. The irony.

But on a dewy September morning the Herneisen family packed into a green GMC Jimmy and turned left out of the driveway. As the sun rose over the rolling farms of Montgomery County, Matt’s parents sipped coffee and his 11 year old brother slept with his face plastered against the window, all riding towards Matt’s uncertain future. No one knew when Matt would be able to play for the Marlies, if ever. No one knew where Matt was going to live or even what the plan was to find housing. The only thing they all knew is that they were climbing 476 North towards Toronto. Matt sat quietly in the back seat staring out the window as the landscape of his childhood passed him by, too excited to sleep at the start of this new adventure.

FGSB Mailbag!

From G. Burns: So excited for the NSYNC reunion on Sunday at the VMAs… if the Flyers were to make a throwback boyband who would be in it?
Going off of the 2GE+HER formula, we’d need to have the heartthrob, the shy one, the cute one, the older brother and the bad boy if we want to be a commercial success, which we obviously do as that is the sole point of constructing a boy band. Had you asked me this question 3 months ago I would have simply answered “Danny Briere.” He filled all these roles and would keep our overhead down. Given that Briere would now have to be a member of Ensemble (that's French for "together" in case you're not as educated as I), my selections for the 2013-2014 boy band, FlyHer, are as follows:

The Heartthrob: Wayne Simmonds – Simmer is face of the band material. He'll also expand our fan demographic, as all the ladies with toothpicks for legs will come running (carefully) when they see Wayne's sexy spindles. It's important to get the skinny legs and all crowd to support you.
The Shy One: Matt Read – Matt Read seems like a quiet guy. Probably because he spends all his downtime reading college books and trying on sweaters. Little known fact, Read attended The Milford School for a PG year before heading off to college.
The Cute One: Brayden Schenn – it’s no secret we have dude bones for Brayden Schenn. He looks like he should have been a Goonie with a cool ass gold chain and v-neck under shirt. Heeeeyy Yooouuuu Guuuyyyysss!
The Older Brother: Steve Hartnell – this maybe should have been Kimmo or Vinny Lecav, but Scoot obviously has to be in this group just so we have a dude with a bad ass bun or long, flowing Michael Bolton locks. If there was an Older Dad hole we needed to fill Kimmo definitely would have been our guy.
The Bad Boy: Zac Rinaldo – What’s badder than taking topless selfies of yourself and sending them to the ladies after you’re supposed to be in bed?? You so bad, Zac!

From Ryan L: Going golfing this weekend. Any advice?
My dad always used to say “Don’t attempt a slapshot with a driver.” Up until last week I kind of thought that went without saying. That was until I read one of the premier puck handlers in the National Hockey League, someone with the hand-eye coordination of a muskrat, missed the ball by at least six inches and managed to stab himself as he broke his club in half. Also, wear a helmet. Concussions are no laughing matter.

From Frank D: What’d you think of Samuel Morin saying that he’s been answering the same questions since he was 16 on last night’s Flight Plan?
He better get ready for 20 more years of it. Kid seems nice. Can’t imagine how difficult going through all that stuff is in your second language. Did she just say I have to go in the bathroom fix my hair and take a shit? Once again, I’m a fan of the spirit of the show, but I’m not really getting much out of it except for things like Marc Bergevin’s pants:

I also enjoyed that:
a) the in-house media person at the draft was playing the Jurassic Park Theme between picks
b) Flight Plan Paul Holmgren is obviously making a significant effort not to sound like Other Media Paul Holmgren
c) no one is comparing Samuel Morin's game, or his face, to that of Chris Pronger's. No one is setting the bar too high for this kid.
d) Whoever came to Morin's rescue when he was talking about the Rocky Russian decided it was too much effort to pronounce Ivan as "e-von", and just Philyyized it because saying things correctly is for losers.

From KD: Just wrapped up Orange is the New Black and I think we should sign Piper Chapman to an PTO.
I don’t disagree. That ending scene (NO SPOILERS) had me so tense that I was sore the next morning. I agree though, can’t offer her a contract right out of the gate, she might disrupt the room. She has a tendency to get under people’s skin. Could just be that everyone is locked in a prison, or it could be that she's a super annoying know-it-all. That last scene shows that she's got the skills we look for in a REAL FLYERS, but we know how it goes when you upset the locker room – you get shipped off to a Stanley Cup winner.

Eagles camp Day 6 observations: The pads finally go on

Eagles camp Day 6 observations: The pads finally go on

It kinda looked like football today!

After months of watching Eagles run around in shorts, the pads went on this morning. No, the team didn’t go live (tackling to the ground), but the pads were popping some and it actually resembled the real game way more than the previous days' sessions. The plan is to go three days with pads before a day without them.

A few guys – Nolan Carroll, Rueben Randle, to name a few – left practice early thanks to injuries, but it didn’t appear any of the injuries were serious (see story).

Here are some observations from Saturday’s practice:

• The much-anticipated first play of 11-on-11s was won by left defensive end Vinny Curry, who blew past right tackle Lane Johnson and would have had a sack if not for that pesky red jersey Sam Bradford was wearing.

How did Curry feel today?

“Hot," he said. "Hot."

You don’t look hot.

“I got my crop top on, you know what I mean,” he said, showing off his green shirt with midriff showing. “It was fun though, man. I got a lot to learn. I’ve got a long way to go.”

• After Curry got a chance to show his stuff with the first team, Marcus Smith flashed with the twos. Yes, that Marcus Smith. On the first play, he beat Matt Tobin, who has been working at left tackle. It’s obviously early and he’s the fourth-best defensive end on the roster, but the switch to the 4-3 defense could actually make him a serviceable NFL player. He’s better going downhill. Smith looked good in 1-on-1 drills against Dennis Kelly later.

• My favorite drills in training camp are offensive line vs. defensive line 1-on-1s. It’s high entertainment between the two biggest and strongest positions on the field. Fletcher Cox is unstoppable in these drills and will be until Brandon Brooks is healthy enough to practice. He’s used to going against monsters from his time in Houston against J.J. Watt. Today, Cox wasn’t stoppable.

Rookie Alex McCalister looks like a string bean and was no match for Halapoulivaati Vaitai. Rookie Destiny Vaeao had a nice power move on Dillon Gordon. Brandon Graham beat Malcolm Bunche with a sweet move to end the drill, which brought plenty of cheers from his defensive line teammates.

• Play of the day belongs to Randle. He made an incredible one-handed grab on a ball from Sam Bradford during individual drills. Randle has been getting looks with the first-team offense and has looked good. Unfortunately, he left early with cramps.

• If you’re looking for a bunch of quarterback analysis today, I don’t have much for you. All three were certainly better than they were in Friday’s disaster, but didn’t get a chance to really air the ball out. The biggest longball play of the day came in 7-on-7s when Carson Wentz aired it out to a diving Josh Huff, who made a great grab. Huff did have a glaring drop today, though.

Bradford had a really nice pass to Chris Givens during 11-on-11s. Bradford also had a great pass – of about 45 yards – to Xavier Rush, who dropped what should have been a touchdown.

• Trey Burton is the forgotten tight end. Yes, he’s third on the depth chart but Brent Celek isn’t getting any younger and Burton is showing some real pass-catching ability this training camp, especially for someone with just three career receptions. He made a great catch on a high ball today.

• It looks like Jordan Matthews’ struggles catching the ball are well behind him. He’s been very solid this summer. He made a few great catches early. On one, he leaped up and snagged the ball around Jordan Hicks and Malcolm Jenkins. A few minutes later, he made another good catch on the sideline.

• Wentz used a hard count to draw off the defense in 11-on-11s. Hard counts. Remember them?

• Earlier this week, Reuben Frank wrote about Wendell Smallwood and that despite his small physical stature, he plays big (see story). Well, we saw it on Saturday. In the open field, instead of trying to go around Jalen Mills, Smallwood lowered his shoulder and tried to go through him. That’s a nice way to start the practices in pads.

• As the pads went on, Blake Countess’ helmet cam was gone, but one appeared on Chase Daniel. It looks like the Eagles are going to keep testing these things out this training camp. Here’s what the camera looked like when it was on Countess:

• Tomorrow’s practice at 10 a.m. will be open and free for all fans at the Linc. No tickets required, just show up for first-come, first-serve seating. Fans can park in K Lot starting at 7 a.m. and gates open at 8 a.m. Enter on 11th street or Darien Street entrances.

What might you see? Well, things are getting a little feistier now that the players are able to hit each other.

When will they start getting under each other’s skin?

“Maybe tomorrow,” Curry said with a smile. “You never know when. You never know who’s having that hot, sweaty, bad day. You just never know. That’s the beauty of training camp."

Pros, cons and likely prospects of a Vince Velasquez trade with Rangers

Pros, cons and likely prospects of a Vince Velasquez trade with Rangers

Vince Velasquez just turned 24 in June.

He's under team control for the next five years and won't start making a lot of money (in baseball terms) until about 2020.

He has a big fastball that averages 93.7 mph, the 10th-best velocity of any NL starting pitcher.

He can be really, really good at times — the 16-strikeout shutout of the Padres, the 10-strikeout game against the Marlins, scoreless performances against the Mets, Indians and Diamondbacks.

And even when he's not at his best, like Friday night in Atlanta, Velasquez can succeed because his stuff is that good. He's made 18 starts this season and allowed two runs or fewer 11 times.

All of these things make him valuable to the Phillies. And all of these things make him attractive to every other team in the majors.

It doesn't seem likely that the Phils will ultimately pull the trigger and trade Velasquez to the Rangers, who are in "deep discussions" with the Phils on a deal, according to CSNPhilly.com's Jim Salisbury (see story). But Texas has such an intriguing group of prospects that it makes sense for the Phillies to listen.

Velasquez, for all of his strengths, has not proven yet that he can be a durable, 180- to 200-inning starting pitcher. He's never even reached 125 innings at any level in the minors. There have been numerous games this season in which his pitch count has soared — either because of a lack of control, nibbling around the plate or a lot of foul balls. The result has been some early exits. That was a knock on Velasquez when he was in Houston and he hasn't yet fully outgrown it.

That's why it could make sense for the Phils to trade him. Perhaps they believe they'd be selling high on a guy who's shown so much talent and promise but not the type of consistency of a No. 1 or No. 2 starter.

Obviously, it makes sense to move him only if the return is strong. And the Rangers could certainly offer a strong package if they decide Velasquez is their guy.

The names you'll see thrown around a lot as the Aug. 1 trade deadline approaches are power hitting third baseman Joey Gallo, infielder Jurickson Profar and outfielders Lewis Brinson and Nomar Mazara.

Mazara is a pipe dream. The Rangers refused to include him in last summer's Cole Hamels trade, and he's only increased his worth to them this season by hitting .282/.334/.417 with 12 homers and 41 RBIs for a first-place team. He'll be a top-three finisher for AL Rookie of the Year. It's almost impossible to envision the Rangers trading away a valuable piece of their major-league roster for Velasquez. It would be a wash, at best.

Gallo and Profar are more realistic targets for the Phillies in a Velasquez trade. Gallo, 22, has some of the best raw power in the minors, true grade-80 power. The 6-foot-5, left-handed hitter bashed 23 homers in the minors last season, 42 the year before and 40 the year before that. Initially, that power translated to the majors when Gallo was called up last June. He hit homers in each of his first two games and had five in his first 50 at-bats before pitchers adjusted. So far in 136 big-league plate appearances, he's hit .192/.287/.408 with seven homers and 63 strikeouts.

The whiffs will always be a part of Gallo's game. To me, he has Brewers' first baseman Chris Carter written all over him — a lot of homers, a lot of strikeouts, low batting average. Gallo could be better than Carter because he plays a more important position and will hopefully be more than a .217 career hitter like Carter, but you also have to keep in mind that the Phillies already have Maikel Franco at third base. If Gallo was traded here, he'd likely play either first base or left field.

It's hard to say right now whether or not Gallo is more valuable or a better fit for the Phils than Velasquez. Usually, it makes sense to go with the everyday player over the pitcher who can make an impact at most twice a week. But, as stated above, Velasquez can give you six quality innings even when he's not "on." He has the most upside of any of the Phillies' young starting pitchers, including Aaron Nola.

Profar, who is somehow still just 23 after years atop prospect lists and a few injuries, would seem to be a better fit. He's a multi-dimensional player who has impressed scouts for years for a reason. He can play every infield position in addition to left field, he has the look of a .300 hitter, and his power is developing.

A switch-hitter, Profar has hit .301/.356/.440 for the Rangers in 181 plate appearances this season with four doubles, two triples and five homers. It's been a while since his last full season in the minors, but in 2012 he hit .281 with an .820 OPS, 14 homers and 62 RBIs as a 19-year-old everyday shortstop at Double A.

The opinion here is that Profar will be a better major-league hitter than Phillies top prospect J.P. Crawford.

There is, however, a vast financial difference between Profar and Gallo. Profar will go to salary arbitration in 2017, 2018 and 2019 before becoming a free agent. Gallo, like Velasquez, won't start making meaningful baseball money until around 2020.

But a team like the Phillies that has deep pockets and so much open payroll space moving forward should be more concerned with receiving the right player than playing the cost benefit game.

Another thing to consider here is that the Rangers need Profar. He's been playing every day for them and playing well at second base, third base and shortstop. He played Friday night in left field. He's started a bunch of games at first base, too, and figures to get some more reps there with Prince Fielder out for the season and Mitch Moreland having just an OK year.

Brinson is another name to keep in mind. A right-handed centerfielder, he was Texas' first-round pick in 2012. He had a terrific year at three different levels in 2015, hitting a combined .332/.403/.601 with 31 doubles, eight triples and 20 homers. He's struggled this season at Double A Frisco, hitting .227 with a .692 OPS in a hitter-friendly environment.

The Rangers also have some other pieces who could help the Phillies, but you'd figure any deal for Velasquez would have to include one of these three. Otherwise, it just makes no sense to even entertain the idea of a trade.

And really, if the Rangers are willing to include one or more of those three young players, they could get any team in the majors to listen to an offer for a starting pitcher. A package centered around two of them might be enough for Chris Sale. Maybe one of them could net Atlanta's Julio Teheran. Velasquez is really good, but so are the combinations of trade packages the Rangers can put together.

Eagles Injury Update: Nolan Carroll, Rueben Randle leave practice early

Eagles Injury Update: Nolan Carroll, Rueben Randle leave practice early

The Eagles' first day of training camp in pads wasn’t without some minor casualties.

Cornerback Nolan Caroll left early with a sore ankle and wideout Rueben Randle left early with cramps. Both are considered day-to-day.

After Carroll left the field, Eric Rowe got some first-team reps with the defense. Randle was having a very good day, standing out with a one-handed grab, before going inside.

Undrafted wide receiver Marcus Johnson, from Texas, went inside early with a quad injury. Corner Ron Brooks (cramps) also went in early.

The Eagles started the day without starting right guard Brandon Brooks (hamstring) and starting running back Ryan Mathews (ankle). Neither have practiced since the whole team got together for the first full-squad on Thursday.

Darren Sproles continues to get most of the first-team reps at running back, with Kenjon Barner filling in. Veteran Stefen Wisniewksi has been taking Brooks’ spot at right guard.